Tripartite Free Trade Area
The Tripartite is an inter-regional co-operation and integration arrangement amongst 27 countries of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It was established through a Memorandum of Understanding on Inter Regional Cooperation and Integration signed on 19 January 2011. The Tripartite was conceived in a meeting between the Chairpersons of the COMESA Authority and the SADC Summit held on the margins of the COMESA Summit in Cairo, Egypt in May 2001.
The decision to establish the COMESA–EAC–SADC Tripartite was informed by the overlapping membership of the Member States to the three Regional Economic Communities (RECs). The aim of the Tripartite is to create a single market through the amalgamation of the COMESA and SADC Free Trade Areas and the EAC Customs Union. The Tripartite adopted a developmental approach and is anchored on three complementary pillars: market integration; industrial development and infrastructure development. During their Summit in 2008, the Heads of State of the three RECs decided that to establish a single Free Trade Area for the 27 countries. Negotiations for the establishment of the Tripartite Free Trade Area were launched in 2011. A Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) Agreement was signed on the 10th June 2015 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. As at February 2018, 22 countries had signed the Agreement and two countries ratified the Agreement. Fourteen ratifications are required for the TFTA Agreement to enter into force
and implementation of the Agreement.
Continental Free Trade Area
The Eighteenth Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2012, adopted a decision to establish a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) by an indicative date of 2017. The Summit also endorsed the Action Plan on Boosting Intra-Africa Trade (BIAT) which identifies seven clusters: trade policy, trade facilitation, productive capacity, trade related infrastructure, trade finance, trade information, and factor market integration. The CFTA will bring together fifty-four African countries with a combined population of more than one billion people and a combined gross domestic product of more than US $3.4 trillion.
The CFTA’s main objectives are to: create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments; expand intra African trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization and facilitation regimes and instruments across RECs and across Africa in general; resolve the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships and expedite the regional and continental integration processes; enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through exploiting opportunities for scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources.
COMESA as one of the eight recognised African Union Regional Economic Communities, has been participating in the CFTA negotiations, with the Secretariat providing support to COMESA and Tripartite Member States.
African Caribbean Pacific – European Union Relations
In 2002, 16 countries from East and Southern Africa (ESA), who are also members of COMESA, IOC, IGAD and EAC, decided they would
jointly negotiate an Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU as one group.
The Eastern and Southern African countries have agreed that Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations with the European Union give priority to development issues. The EPA is intended to restructure trading arrangements between the EU and the ESA countries to make them more effective in promoting EU-ESA trade and more supportive of broader development goals, and more compatible with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. This is in line with the Cotonou Agreement, which provides for negotiations of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the EU and ACP countries, which were to go into effect in January 2008 after the Cotonou Agreement expires.
The ESA region embarked on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations in February 2004, with the main objectives of strengthening the regional integration process, improving market access into the EU and assisting with the economic development of the region.
In market access terms, EPA negotiations aim to achieve in the long term a Free Trade Area between the EU and ESA. This implies reciprocity of trade liberalization, even though the need for a certain element of asymmetry is recognized by the European Commission, given that most of the countries in the region need to build their productive capacity to become competitive and/or are Least Developed Countries. Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles concluded an interim EPA and negotiations will continue that are aimed at concluding a full EPA for the ESA country.
Support to Member States at World Trade Organisation Negotiations
COMESA was the first regional trade organization of African countries to be notified to the WTO under the Enabling Clause, on 29 June 1995. In order to support the Member States, negotiate at the WTO meetings the Secretariat has prepared position papers for all the Ministerial meetings since the Seattle meeting of 1999 to date.
African Growth and Opportunity Act
COMESA with the support of the Member States has been lobbying actively for increased access to opportunities offered under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) of the United States, passed into law by the US Congress in May 2000. Under this Act, 34 Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries qualified to export close to 8,000 types of products to the US market duty and quota free. Most COMESA States have since qualified to benefit under the AGOA. In June 2015 AGOA and the third country fabric provisions were extended by 10 years through to September 2025.